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EDITORIAL: Applying for jobs? Start prepping for your personality quiz

Personality tests driven by artificial intelligence may now be used to weed out prospective job candidates.

Companies looking to shorten their candidate list turn to artificial intelligence personality quizzes to eliminate applicants. – Photo by pixabay.com

You have compiled the perfect resume, practiced interviewing in front of your mirror, written and rewritten a near-perfect cover letter and spent the past semesters protecting your GPA from any sudden drops by swapping nights out and free time for studying and homework. You have done everything right, right? Wrong. 

You forgot to prepare for your personality quiz and now you have to spend 30 minutes taking an online assessment for your prospective employer to prove that you really are the perfect candidate.

Smash a spacebar for 30 seconds to prove that you are focused. Pick between photos of men sitting at their desks looking bereaved or exhilarated to demonstrate your capacity for empathy. Add numbers in your head, do some long division and click the down arrow every time a green dot flashes on the screen like a trained rat. 

You sit through tasks, each stranger than the last and at the end of this bizarre exercise, your personality is listed on the screen. Who you are as a person is measured, quantified and recorded. If you are lucky, you go on to the next stage of hiring hoops to jump through. If you are not, you end up rejected on the basis of a personality test. 

Even better, your results are retained by some personality quizzing companies for almost a year and sent out when you apply to other organizations that use their services. The score your personality earns follows you around. 

To say that this is dystopian is banal, even trivial. It is an ethically questionable, psychologically dubious practice whose moral implications are far-reaching and frankly terrifying. You can be rejected from a job — something you need to survive — because a quirky quiz found you were just not human enough.

This is the reality for students applying for jobs at big-name companies like J.P. Morgan, Boston Consulting Group, Unilever and more. Companies hire third parties like pymetrics or Greenhouse to use artificial intelligence technology to profile and rank candidates before a human resources employee ever sees an application. 

These tests have become so prevalent that now you can even study for them. Online resources mimic the tests given out by these organizations and ask you to, “review the qualities that (the company you are applying to) is looking for in candidates” presumably so that you can tailor your answers for that position. Imagine that — preparing for a personality quiz.

This immediately calls into question the accuracy of these tests. If you can manipulate the results, then really all it is measuring is your proficiency in deceit. Obviously, companies promise their results are accurate and reliable, but how exactly their artificial intelligence technology is able to suss out your strengths and weaknesses remains a trade secret. 

The thing is, humans have been trying to measure and quantify personality for centuries. Ancient Greek physicians relied on the four humors: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood, to determine temperament. In the 1800s, phrenologists claimed that the shape of your head determined intellectual abilities and behavior. Astrologists have been studying the correlation between birth times and personality since Babylon

These examples are all clearly nonsense, pseudo-science and gibberish. But even modern tests like Myers-Briggs can be completely meaningless. 

So what of pymetrics? Its gamified personality quiz and use of artificial intelligence may make it seem more reliable, but researcher Simine Vazire at the University of California, Davis explains that “if the process seems confusing or if questions veer off into the abstract, that is a red flag.”

But let us assume, for a moment, that these tests are accurate. Should a company be able to dive into your personality and make hiring decisions on that basis? It might not seem like it, but both of these questions raise legal concerns about discrimination and your right to privacy.

Companies like pymetrics market their technology on the claims that it reduces time spent looking for ideal candidates, puts people in jobs they will be happier in and reduces discrimination by categorizing candidates on traits independent of race, gender or class. 

These quizzes may be blind to protected classes under the 14th Amendment, but not to neurodivergence. Testing for empathy and the ability to recognize emotions in others is something that can be used to identify those who have autism or similar conditions that “have major difficulties in recognizing and responding to emotional and mental states in others' facial expressions.” 

Testing for reaction time can reveal a candidate's age and weed out those that are older and have a slower reaction to stimulus. Some tests overtly ask if the candidate has been diagnosed with ADHD, a question that really is out of place in the hiring process. 

But let us assume that tests are accurate and do not discriminate against neurodivergent populations. How much personal information can a company justifiably require from candidates?

Your address, phone number or prior work experience is fair game, obviously. But what about your medical record? How about psychiatric evaluations? Can they contact your therapist, provided you are seeing one, to ask about your personality? What about a personality test? The legality of personality tests, as a matter of privacy, “depends on the test and on the laws of your state.” 

Let us make one final assumption: that tests are accurate, non-discriminatory and a legally permissible breach of privacy. Are they ethical? The idea that your work opportunities can be narrowed by artificial intelligence software is unsettling, to say the least. But even if these personality tests were not tied to employment, officially quantifying what makes you human and attaching a score to those characteristics is bleak. 

As students who will soon be seeking employment, these personality quizzes seem inescapable, and in large part are. But that does not mean you should take them blindly. Look out for legal challenges, and ask yourself how far you are willing to go to appease an employer seeking their ideal workforce. 


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 153rd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.


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